With the growth of industrialization and human population over the planet, the ability to find a dark sky is becoming even harder and harder. To think that many children are now growing up and aren’t able to see the night sky filled with stars and planets like some of us that had the privilege to see in our youth.
Light pollution is now such an issue that there are now websites that help you Find a Dark Sky away from all of civilization. I live in a highly concentrated area in the Mid-Atlantic Region and very few stars are visible in the evenings. So much so that I’ve now begun to search for dark skies in my travels.
When planning my visit to Mount Desert Island in Maine, I scheduled it during a New Moon so that even more so the skies would be dark. There are several smart device apps that I use to help me in planning for the night sky. The most comprehensive one is Photopills which has a live Night AR feature to help you pinpoint just where the Milky Way is. This app offers the ability to plan a location in advance and pinpoint just when and where the Milky Way can be best seen.
While Mount Desert Island is not heavily populated and is remote, the towns that support the tourism industry shine brightly at night. Staying on “The Quiet Side” of the island near Southwest Harbor has given me better odds in finding a true dark sky.
During the day, I scouted possible locations that would offer great skies and interesting foregrounds. This proved to be quite helpful as several places I planned to go in the dark were on rocky and root filled trails. With my flashlight in hand, I attached my Samyang 14mm f/2.0 Superwide angle lens to the Canon 5D Mark IV. I dialed in the settings of f/2.8, ISO 3200, 1/30 of a sec. and a custom white balance of Kelvin 3400 before I left the house.
Using a backpack to carry my camera and my tripod in hand I safely arrived to my first stop which was on top of Beech Mountain on the Cliff Trail. It was a great spot and I had the place to myself, but the lights from nearby Southwest Harbor arose. It was also the blue hour and I really needed to wait a little longer.
After a few shots, I went to my next stops making the circuit around the western section of the quiet side of the island on Route 102 through Tremont.
It was a clear and balmy night and truly I probably could have pulled an all nighter photographing the stars. Each time an image showed up on the back of the camera after capture I would just sit and stare mesmerized at the amount of stars captured by the camera.
See…many of the stars aren’t visible to the naked eye, but the camera can capture it. Using the Photopills Live Night AR feature, I would point my iPhone at the sky and it shows the virtual location of the Milky Way with its Galactic Center. Pointing my lens at the spot as a best guess, I awaited the 30 seconds to see if I got it right.
Astrophotography doesn’t stop there though as once you bring the images home, post processing is needed to really brighten and enhance the stars. Using Lightroom, I increased whites, contrast, saturation and noise reduction. I also tweaked the white balance a bit to help with the tone of the sky. Finally, I used the dehaze slider and the clarity slider to really bring out the stars. The last editing step was to pass the image through Google’s Nik Dfine noise reduction program for the final result.
The stars are truly so spectacular here, I just might to have to go back out another night to bask in their glory.